Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children
Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

A while back, I posted a delightful video of a young French girl imaginatively retelling the story of Winnie the Pooh. I asked Betty Bardige, an expert on early language development, to comment, and she remarked that the little girl’s well-developed language skills would make her a popular playmate. New research finds another social-emotional advantage of strong early language skills. Toddlers with better language skills are better able to manage frustration once they are preschool-age.

“Angry outbursts like temper tantrums are common among toddlers, but by the time children enter school, they’re expected to have more self-control,” MedicalXpress reports. “To help them acquire this skill, they’re taught to use language skills like ‘using your words.’ This study sought to determine whether developing language skills relates to developing anger control. Does developing language ability reduce anger between ages 2 and 4?”

To answer this question, researchers followed 120 children, starting at 18 months until they were 4. The children, most of whom were white, were from families whose income was above the poverty level but below middle income. In home visits and in the lab, researchers assessed children’s language skills and their ability to cope with potentially frustrating situations. The study, published in the journal Child Development, provides the first longitudinal evidence linking language skills with a child’s later ability to regulate anger, according to principal investigator Pamela Cole, a research professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University.

In one situation, researchers asked children to wait eight minutes before opening a gift. During the eight minutes their mothers were busy answering researchers’ questions.

“Children whose language developed more quickly were more likely to calmly seek their mother’s support while waiting when they were 3, which in turn predicted less anger at 4,” MedicalXpress reports. “Children whose language developed more quickly also were better able to occupy themselves when they were 4, which in turn helped them tolerate the wait.”

Concludes Cole: “Better language skills may help children verbalize rather than use emotions to convey needs and use their imaginations to occupy themselves while enduring a frustrating wait.”